Due to crappy weather and the realization that I hadn't given myself much of a recovery from last weekend's 50k I decided to take Thursday and Friday off. Nothing was feeling bad, just seemed like the right thing to do. We got about 6 inches of new snow on Thursday, but then some sleet and freezing rain that created a hard icy layer on top and left things in a bad condition for running. I was hopeful that snowmobiles would have been out before our Saturday morning run and that we'd be able to do the first run of the year on the Beautiful Loop. I had seen some snowmobile traffic on my local trails so I left the house early this morning to do a little reconnaissance near Bradbury. The first few spots where snowmobiles usually cross the road were free from any tracks, but I found some tracks across Pownal Rd so I was hopeful we'd be able to make it around the 15 mile loop.
Shortly after I got to the park Alan came in from running a few miles on the East Side trails and reported that he hadn't seen any snomo tracks, and that gaiters were a good idea. D'oh! It never occurred to me to bring gaiters, but Alan was right, it turned out they were needed. Jeremy, Ben, Zak, Nathan and Alan we're all up for giving the Beautiful Loop a try, and Mindy & Val planned to follow our tracks as long as they could. No one knew what to expect, but we were all up for some adventure.
Each step broke through the crusty layer of ice and sunk into a dry, sugary snow beneath. The edges of the ice holes we created were hard and jagged and scraped the hell out of our ankles. As much as possible we were trying to follow the footsteps of whoever was breaking trail out front. It took about 2.25 miles and almost a half hour before we eventually hit the snowmobile tracks, which unfortunately only lasted about 1/2 mile. After another stretch of unbroken snow we got back onto snomo tracks around 4.5 miles and then had a decent stretch of about 3.5 miles of well packed trails.
At 7.25 miles we hit Chandler Brook, the only river crossing without a bridge. This river is the reason why we only run this loop in the winter, unless you want to swim there is no other way across until it freezes, and given the relatively warm winter we've had so far I was doubtful that we'd be able to make it across. It looked pretty frozen at first, but we walked to the edge and could see open water up stream, obviously not a good sign. We all agreed it would be stupid to try to cross the thin ice so we turned back to look for an alternate route. A minute later I heard someone exclaim "holy shit! Alan's on the other side." We all looked back and saw Alan waving from the opposite side of the river. That probably wasn't a good idea, but we all followed his lead and one at a time made it across the sketchy ice.
By mile 8 we ran out of tracks to follow and were left to break trail on our own. I kept hoping we'd pick up another set of tracks but it never happened, and the terrain was getting worse with more hills and more unexpected things lurking under the ice and snow. At each road crossing I offered up a bail out option for a shortcut back to the park, but Alan (who had already got in a few miles before the rest of us arrived and was suffering from some cramping) was the only one to accept. It was pretty clear that we were all struggling a bit, but no one wanted to be the one who suggested we take the easy way out. I call these types of runs "character building workouts," when you're running in conditions that are (hopefully) far worse than you'll ever encounter in a race, and you're not only getting a good physical workout but you're really pushing yourself mentally. In training I like to put myself in situations where I have a choice of taking the easy way out, or to keep pushing on despite the conditions. In a long race you'll often find yourself in a situation where you want to give up, it's good to know that you have experience pushing through it. We had a good strong group today and we all helped each other stay motivated and positive.
The elevation profile doesn't accurate reflect the perception of hills on this route, the second half definitely feels like it has a lot of tough ups. That surely has to do with the fatigue we were starting to feel from breaking trail for so long. The one thing that the elevation profile does appear to get right is the big friggin' climb at the end. About 350' in just over a mile. It was brutal. But we were SuperBad...
After the run we regrouped at Edna & Lucy's to refuel and relive the experience. Mindy and Val came in shortly afterwards and we had fun catching up with their experience on the Beautiful Loop. It really wasn't pretty, but we all agreed that it was a fun adventure and a hell of a workout.
distance: 15.55 miles
weather: mid 20's, cloudy and breezy
gear: Inov-8 Oroc 280, wool socks + sock liners, tights, 2x long sleeve tops, gloves, mittens, hat, Nathan HPL#020